Renting a car abroad is not always easy. I’ve rented cars in Martinique, Canada, the UK and there’s no forgetting the near disaster in Guadeloupe! Between surcharges, taxes, miscellaneous expenses, short gearboxes – I’ve seen it all!
Tom won’t let me drive his car (even in a parking lot!) but it hasn’t stopped me getting my cruising fix. Seeing as I’ve written about buying a car, I thought it would be helpful to share the things I consider to avoid disappointment when hiring a car while globetrotting.
What are your plans?
Are you just going on a day trip? If so, you probably don’t need that big of a car. Are you going on a big trip, like overland touring, off-roading, or a journey across Canada? You’ll be looking for a completely different type of car (larger, more fuel efficient) and that will affect where you go to rent it. Big trip planning isn’t my forte, so you can read some really great tips here. Your plans will influence all of the next things to consider! Don’t compromise on the necessities though – you know, seatbelts, safety, spares, insurance…
Research different companies
Don’t just go for a big brand name rental companies. Do some research beforehand and better yet, if you’re already in town, ask some of the locals where is best to rent a car. The small companies are okay because they’ll usually give you a really good rate, but they’ll often lose your reservation if you’ve made one. There was a really good place in Martinique called Wolf Pneu that rented a car out – it was like €10 a day. But the car was pretty sketchy…
Chains can offer good discounts but they may not always be the best deal. Regardless, if you’re not comfortable with the process or the language, you may be better off using them because they’ll have a standardized process.
I’ve all too often waited until the last minute to rent a car, or I decide when I’m there. Since I’m not picky, I just try to get to the least expensive not dangerous vehicle. Tom’s dad, on the other hand, wanted to test out the newer version of his Mercedes when we were in Prague. It was an automatic and we had a bit of an entertaining time when he couldn’t figure out how to put the gear into drive! Turns out it was by the steering wheel, like where old station wagons have them, instead of next to the seat. Definitely consider the seat number, the trunk, overall size and whether you actually know how to drive it!
Automatic or Manual?
People argue that manual transmission cars are better on fuel than automatics. I don’t know if that’s still true in the advent of hybrid cars and such, but since I learned to drive standard, albeit roughly, I really like it! In any case, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a manual rental car in North America. Automatic cars are available in Europe and the Caribbean, but they will cost you an arm and a leg.
Get it. Especially if you’re not a confident driver or not that comfortable about driving in that place. In Guadeloupe, I knew I didn’t know how to drive standard, so I definitely got the insurance which included liability, damage, and theft.
Be sure to read the fine print! As it turns out, tire damage isn’t covered by the basic insurance. I learned that the hard way in Guadeloupe. For that reason, I can no longer rent from JumboCar in France… In some instances, for you to be covered if the car is stolen, you need to be in possession of the keys or else you will be liable.
Mileage and Gas/Petrol/Diesel
For a long time I didn’t even know there was a difference between petrol and diesel engines. I just thought one was fancy and you could put it in any car…
In any case, diesel engines are meant to be more fuel efficient, but petrol engines are less expensive to run. Make sure you know what kind of fuel the car takes otherwise you’re in for a really expensive repair/replacement bill.
On that note, make sure you know how much gas should be in the tank before returning it. If there’s not enough, you’ll be charged the difference at an exorbitant price.
If you’re going on a long trip, it may be a good idea to spring for unlimited mileage. Unless you’re really meticulous and you know how much you’ll be driving. But hey, you never know – you might get lost or something!
GPS and accessories
If you can bring your own GPS (or Tomtom for the Brits) then do it, because most companies will add that on the price. Other accessories might include baby seats and roof racks. In Iceland, they asked me if I wanted chains for the tires! Apparently that is how they define ‘snow tires’.
These extras are charged at either a daily or fixed rate, so just check what your options are and whether you really need it.
Don’t make the mistake of letting your partner/friend/brother drive your car without adding an additional driver. If they get in an accident and aren’t a driver, you are screwed. In most cases, the option isn’t free so if it’s a long journey make sure you’ve decided whether one of you is driving or if there will be multiple drivers.
Airport/Accommodation Drop-Off and Return
This is a really handy service that many of the big chains will offer as a complimentary service. When Tom was leaving Martinique, he rented a car for a day, they would drop the car off at his house and he would drop it off at the airport. This is a one-way option, and really useful if you decide halfway through your trip that you want to rent a car.
I hope you’ve found this all useful! Now tell me, have you had any experience with renting a car abroad? Any horror stories we can all learn from? Where was your favourite place to drive?